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England are nowhere near the level of some of the great one-day teams but they have reliable cricketers and they use them well
George Dobell at The Oval
June 19, 2012
It is a peculiarly English phenomenon to make a weakness out of a strength. Just as some used to deride a county system that produced the largest pool of first-class players in the world and attracted the cream of overseas talent, now they look at a dependable batting line-up and criticise a lack of firepower.
Most nations would rejoice in possessing a top three who each look capable of batting through an innings and scoring centuries. In England, however, it seems the critics worry that victory may not have come fast enough or with enough style. Despite a record that now reads six successive ODI victories and six successive home ODI series victories, still some look to the future and fear that, in certain circumstances and in certain countries, England may come unstuck.
There will, no doubt, be some bumps on the road ahead. There will, no doubt, be times, in Asia in particular, when England are out-muscled or out-manoeuvred. When a highly-talented opposition batsman - and there are many out there - enjoys a good day and England's best is not good enough. Even the great West Indies sides of the 1970s and 80s were beaten occasionally; remember the 1983 World Cup final.
This England side are nowhere near that level. They remain a work in progress and outsiders for global events. The arrival of Australia, even a slightly under-strength Australia, also provides a reminder that sterner tests lie ahead. Australia were, after all, the last side to beat England in an ODI series in England (in 2009) while West Indies have been bitterly disappointing.
But, with two new balls now in use in ODI cricket and with the next World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand, England's tactic of taking a balanced, positive approach with the bat and backing their fine bowling attack will win them many games.
England are playing to their strengths. In the absence of top-order destroyers - the likes of a Kevin Pietersen - they are not asking miracles of men ill-equipped for the job. They are asking their best batsmen to play, by and large, conventional cricket, backing them to pick-up skills and confidence as they grow together as a team. Time will tell whether it is enough to bring the long-awaited global ODI trophy, but they are surely better to play the hand that fate has dealt them rather than, as has been the case in the past, pretend they have the cards that others are holding. The likes of Matt Prior and Criag Kieswetter, worthy cricketers though they are, can no more bat like Adam Gilchrist or Sanath Jayasuriya than adding a spoiler to a Toyota makes it a Ferrari.
|"From a West Indies perspective this was a bitterly disappointing game. This was their full strength squad and put simply, there was no further room for excuses."|
This win was built upon another excellent performance with the ball. James Anderson and Graeme Swann were immaculate; the rest provided support as England contained West Indies to a total that was, perhaps, as much as 80 below par.
But, in many ways, it is Alastair Cook who is the microcosm of his team. A couple of years ago, he looked a tough but limited batsman, unsuited to this form of the game. But since his elevation to the captaincy his record is little short of miraculous. In 24 ODIs he is now averaging 54.13 with four centuries (three in his last six ODI innings), eight half-centuries and a strike-rate of 91.47. He has added strokes to his game, impetus to his approach and improved as a limited-overs player immeasurably.
It helps Cook to know that, should he fail, either Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott can pick up the baton. Ian Bell batted quite beautifully here, timing the ball with the grace given to very few and producing some delightful strokes, while Trott finished the job in typically undemonstrative style. It is absurd that his ODI batting average, a fraction under 50, continues to be used against him. Reliability is not boring. It is reassuring.
In years to come, when people glance at the scorecard, they may dismiss this as a humdrum ODI. It is true, certainly, that the excellent Gayle apart, West Indies barely turned up and there was a notable absence of tension. England win was almost embarrassingly one-sided.
But this was, in the circumstances, an outstanding performance from England. A performance that speaks volumes for their professionalism. For it would have been easy, natural even, to have lost focus or motivation in the aftermath of the crushing loss of Tom Maynard. It would have been understandable for catches to be spurned, bowlers to lose concentration and batsmen to struggle to maintain focus. Instead, the shared loss seemed to bind them tighter together than ever.
"It's been a tough 36 hours for us as a team," Cook said afterwards. "It was obviously incredibly sad news and quite a few of the boys were very emotional during the minute's silence. But the way we handled it, with Jimmy Anderson bowling two maidens up front, was good and we went from there.
"It has been difficult. It has hit us hard. Quite a few of us have played with Tom; all of us have played against him. Tom was a great lad and he will be missed. It puts cricket into perspective."
From a West Indies perspective, however, this was a bitterly disappointing game. This was, give or take an injury or two, their full strength squad and the format of the game in which they had the most confidence. Put simply, there was no further room for excuses.
Yet, on the ground on which they once played with such pride and passion, where Sir Viv Richards thrashed England's bowlers for 291, where Michael Holding terrorised England's batsmen with 14 wickets, where Ramadhin and Valentine bowled them to victory and where Lara and Worrell made centuries, they produced a timid performance with bat and ball that only underlined how far they have fallen.
There have been moments on this tour when you could sense tentative steps of progress in West Indies' cricket. At the Oval it appeared they were back to the square one. This series, like so many others, has now gone, but they could, at least, produce a performance at Headingley to show this was an aberration and not the norm.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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